Why I Still Love Van Morrison

And Why You Should, Too

by Jerry Cimino

Van Morrison released his 2019 album Three Chords and the Truth not too long after his last visit to The Beat Museum and City Lights. One of the songs on that record is called “Up on Broadway.” It’s about Van’s love of the street we live on: Broadway, in North Beach, at the intersection of Columbus Ave.

Leo Green:

“‘Up on Broadway’ was one of my favorites. What’s that about?”

Van Morrison:

Well, it’s pure fiction, but it’s based on a street in San Francisco. It’s a big street that goes down to North Beach where City Lights Bookshop is. That’s always been a favorite of mine. They published Kerouac and Burroughs and all these people. Ferlinghetti owns it, still. He’s still alive, he’s 100. And its kind of Romantic Mythology. But its my mythology, its not somebody else’s projected on me. This is my mythology projected on me.

There has been a lot of dust up over Van Morrison’s three most recent songs “No More Lockdown,” “As I Walked out” and “Born to Be Free.” It’s gone so far as some longtime fans saying they’ll never buy a Van Morrison album again, disappointed as they are about how he’s “gone political.”

I’ve been a Van Morrison fan since I was a teenager. I still love the guy and his entire body of work. As a Kerouac fan, as a Beat fan, how can I not?

Van Morrison & Jerry Cimino
Van Morrison & Jerry Cimino at the Beat Museum, 2018

I’ve only met Van Morrison twice, when he stopped in to The Beat Museum, so I can hardly call him a “friend,” but when you’ve been following a musician for fifty years, like I’ve been following Van, you come to know him in ways that you may not even know your own family members. 

It almost feels like Van has been a friend, because I came to know him through his lyrics and when he sings, the emotion of his creative spark. I listened to his music in my teenage bedroom at my parents’ house, in my college dorm room, in my first car burning through 8-tracks, homemade cassettes I made from my own LPs, through the CD version of those very same LPs, and now through streaming.

I can’t claim to know what’s in Van’s mind. Both times we met, we only spoke for about twenty minutes. But I do know what I’ve heard in his music, and what I’ve read about him in the press, and my view is Van has always been remarkably non-political—and for a guy who grew up in Belfast when he did, I’d consider that quite a feat! 

Van said in a 2017 interview with the Irish News, when he was being pressed if the politicians were doing enough for the working class: “I’m not really into that. I’m apolitical. I’ve got nothing to say about politics whatsoever and I’m not about to start now.”

I view Van’s frustration with what COVID-19 has done to life in 2020 as more of a response to how the pandemic has affected his life’s work than any kind of political statement. I see it as similar to businesspeople I know in San Francisco, people who own restaurants for example, that have had to shut down. They’re caught between complying with regulations for the sake of keeping everyone safe and healthy, and meanwhile they have their own responsibilities, and employees who depend upon them. For many, their business is very much a part who they are and what they do. 

North Beach graffiti, 2020

I can imagine Van sees life in 2020 like many of these restaurateurs do. Van may or may not be desperate for cashflow like most small businesspeople are, but music is his life, and performing before an audience is what he does. I’ve got to believe that at 75, Van is wondering how many more years he’ll be doing live gigs.

Here’s my point: You don’t stop loving your old friends because you have a spat, or when they do something silly or say a controversial thing. And in the political arena, Lord knows, I battle daily on the internet in public forums with people who are on the opposite side of my political position. 

But I don’t argue publicly with my old friends, people I’ve known since childhood, high school or college. Those people get a pass no matter how wrong I might think they are. Those people are too dear to me to allow any political issue to get between us. There aren’t very many people in my life who fall into that very narrow category, but for those who do, I can’t cancel them out of my life.

Just like I can’t stop listening to Van Morrison.